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​The mall is a puzzle put together by the architects to take foot traffic seamlessly from the taxi rank on the roof, to the shops in the centre.
THE Pan Africa Shopping Centre in Alexandra is possibly the country’s first shopping centre designed to combine a taxi rank and informal traders with upmarket shops.

The taxi rank on the top floor is light and airyThe taxi rank on the top floor is light and airy“It was designed in a seamless way, with synergy between the three,” says Dalene Louw, head of executive property development and management at Tebfin Management and Development Company. “It is a good combination of local businesses and national brands.”

The centre is a joint venture between Tebfin and two of Alex’s taxi associations, the Alexandra Taxi Association and Alexandra Randburg Midrand Sandton Taxi Association. The centre is unique in that it has space for up to 3 500 taxis on the roof, and the associations manage security at the mall. In addition, it provides for 78 informal traders, alongside more upmarket retailers like Markham, Uzzi and John Craig.

Opened in November 2009, the centre has 58 shops and a long waiting list of potential tenants. A 2 000m² addition to the centre will satisfy some of that demand, taking the overall space to 18 000m², and providing space for Truworths, Mr Price and Edgars, which opened in late April.

Architect Greg Truen of Stefan Antoni Olmsdahl and Truen Architects says there were challenges to incorporating a taxi rank into a shopping centre. “Managing the flows of people in and out of the retail portion through the mall was simpler than managing the flow of taxis through the building. A series of ramps and bridges connect the two buildings which are accessible from three streets. It really was a puzzle that we had to put together.”

Pan Africa is on three levels – the basement contains a banking hall and several furniture shops; the ground floor contains a mix of national brand shops, hair salons, shoe and decor shops, plus the anchor tenant, Pick n Pay; and the top floor provides space for a large taxi rank, plus small stalls for traders.

There are 78 stalls for informal tradersThere are 78 stalls for informal tradersAnother challenge, indicates Truen, was to create a centre in a very dense part of Alex, split across two properties. This meant that “the organisation of the building was largely determined by the way taxis need to move through the building to drop off commuters, wait in a holding rank and then collect new customers in the rank”.

But the emphasis wasn’t just on the commuter experience. “It was also important to create a high-quality retail experience while managing movement of people to and from the rank, which sits above the retail portion,” adds Truen. And of course, there was the need “to create a pleasant pedestrian environment and a landmark building for Alex”.

Louw says the centre attracts up to 1,5 million customers a month. “We wanted to push feet through the centre, so those taking a taxi have to go through [it],” she adds.

It provides “an upmarket experience”. “Tourists come here for the first world shopping experience, but also for a traditional experience, with a meal from the traders.”

Restaurant chains like KFC and McDonald’s are situated around the outside of the ground floor, allowing them to stay open after the mall has closed for business.

Originally a Putco bus depot, then a taxi rank, the mall is part of the Alexandra Renewal Project (ARP). It cost R180-million to build, with funding provided by the City of Johannesburg, the ARP, the Gauteng departments of housing and transport, and Tebfin.

Natural lights streams in through north-facing windowsNatural lights streams in through north-facing windowsOliver Phaahla, one of four partners at Pick n Pay, says that the integration of the taxi rank with the shopping centre makes good business sense. “It makes our store more accessible to all demographics, and more convenient.”

He says the store attracts 10 000 customers a day, placing the Pan Africa Pick n Pay store 19th in Gauteng in terms of turnover.

Green friendly features
It has green friendly features. The roof is angled to the north, and with a row of large windows along its edge, it allows in the slanting winter sun to warm the interior, while in summer the higher sun doesn’t enter the interior. This means that no air-conditioning is used in the centre court. The windows also allow in plenty of natural light. The taxi rank also receives lots of natural light.

Asked whether he is pleased with the final product, Truen says: “Yes, I think that it has made a positive contribution to the urban environment and people can now do all of their shopping in Alex, which is a big plus for local people.”

Pan Africa received a “highly commended” award from the Gauteng Institute of Architects late last year.

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